A new emergency overnight shelter for Prince William County homeless people is scheduled to open at a Woodbridge church this month, John Boldosser of the local food bank Operation Love said last week.

St. Paul United Methodist Church at 1800 G St. agreed last week to let Operation Love, a nonprofit organization, install a mobile shelter unit on church property through mid-March.

The final approval for the facility, which would accommodate 18 men, women and children, rests with the Board of County Supervisors. If a special use permit for its operation is granted, it will be the only emergency shelter in the county this year.

According to the Rev. Larry Tingle of St. Paul United Methodist, the proposed facility has met little opposition from nearby residents. However, a few have expressed safety concerns about operating a shelter in a residential area, Tingle said. He said that the mobile unit will be at the end of the church property that is the farthest from any neighbors.

"It is my hope to get them off the streets and give them a warm place to sleep so they won't die," Tingle said.

Called a hypothermia prevention unit, the facility was originally planned to open only on very harsh winter nights to accommodate overflow from the five shelters in the county, particularly for single men and women, who are usually second to families on shelters' priority lists. Now Operation Love and ACTS, which will staff the facility, plan to keep the unit open every night from 7 p.m. to 7 a.m., according to Lucille Davis, ACTS director of housing.

"Tonight it's not 32" degrees, Davis said on Friday. "But it's miserable and if it's an older person it could be life-threatening. And if you're out there with children, it would be awful."

All five Prince William area shelters were operating at or near capacity last week as freezing temperatures, snow and rain arrived in the area.

Until last year, a county church network, which included St. Paul United Methodist Church, offered emergency shelter to homeless people with a program that moved every other week to another church. However, the service was ended last year and replaced temporarily by an emergency shelter at St. Margaret's Episcopal Church in Woodbridge.

Northern Virginia lost the only facility dedicated only to hypothermia prevention this fall when Alexandria's Carpenter Shelter moved and lost the permit for its 120-bed emergency shelter unit. But homeless shelters in Alexandria and Fairfax are making provisions for emergency conditions by adding five to 15 beds on dangerously cold nights.

Operation Love began pulling together plans and searching for a site for Prince William's emergency shelter early in the fall, according to Boldosser, who runs the food bank out of his Woodbridge home.

"I think the most immediate thing {for the homeless} in Prince William is fighting the weather," Boldosser said.

Efforts to find a county-owned site for the facility were thwarted because of the food bank's religious affiliation and liability concerns, according to Boldosser. He approached St. Paul United Methodist in mid-November.

Under a joint agreement with the church and ACTS, Operation Love is spending $8,000 to $10,000 to lease the mobile unit from a Richmond company and pay for the unit's electrical hook-up, bottled water and a portable toilet. ACTS will provide one full-time paid worker and a volunteer to staff the unit.

The county is giving ACTS additional funding for its other programs to allow ACTS to free about $5,500 for the emergency shelter staff, according to Prince William Director of Social Services Ricardo Perez.

Under current plans, no meals will be served at the facility. "We're not focusing on food," said Davis of ACTS. "We're focusing on protecting people from the environment."

However, Tingle said provisions for some refreshments may be made. "Once it gets going, some volunteers from the church may take some hot chocolate over," Tingle said.